Developing Loyalty With Followers of Digital Influencers Through Para Social Relationships: An In-depth Case Study of the Dynamic Process of Follower Motivation, the Creation and Development of Brand Loyalty in the Online World

Rikke Hendrich Nielsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


In the digital age, consumers control more and more of the communication, through platforms of which the individuals freely can express their opinions, consequently making it difficult for brands to steer the communication on their brand in a favorable direction. This challenging situation for brands can have devastating consequences, if the online communities across platforms sets to shift the agenda of what was intended from the brand. Therefore, this research takes a point of departure in digital opinion leaders, and their ability to influence consumers through relationships thereof. Typically, digital influencers are selected by brands based on number of followers in the desired target group. However, likes, shares and followership say little as to how the followers actually interpret their relationship to the digital influencers. Therefore, this thesis sets the objective to understand the nuances of this relationship, as to understand how this can contribute to brand loyalty. Upon selecting a digital influencer relevant to research, results of the netnographic pilot study of Cathrine Wichmand employed, exhibited numerous interactions between her and her followers. These interactions displayed a strong emotional connection, going beyond the proximity of observation from a distance, and emphasizing the need for theoretical constructs to enlighten the nature, and development of this relationship.
As called for by the observation of this social phenomena, the theory of para social relationships, follower motivations and brand engagement sufficed to the theoretical understanding of this. Furthermore, the interrelatedness of these constructs was revealed through in-depth interviews of six followers of Cathrine. This resulted in two models uncovering both the initial development of followership, and the Dynamic Para Social Relationship model, exhibiting enablers and conditions for developing and strengthening this relationship in contributing to brand loyalty.
Having established the interrelatedness of these constructs, a model for understanding the relationships of the digital influencer with its followers contribute to new nuances of what theoretically should be perceived as para social relationships. This further emphasizes how the strong emphasis on personal identification with the digital influencer supports the creation of brand loyalty.
Consequently, this thesis supports the existing literature on para social relationships with a dynamic model for understanding crucial factors for establishing these. Furthermore, this thesis contributes to the brand communication literature with the insight to employ digital influencers with a strong para social relationship to their followers, to be able to steer the communication on their brand in a favorable direction, and thus ensuring deeply rooted brand loyalty to their benefit.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages161
SupervisorsNiels Kornum